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Are you significant? That was the question posed by ethicist Michael Josephson, founder of the Joseph & Edna Josephson Institute of Ethics, at the Orange County (California) Ethics in America awards dinner last June, where I'm proud to say Entrepreneur won an Ethics Award. Josephson asked the audience if we understood the difference between success and significance. Most of us yearn to be successful, thinking it will mark our place in this world. But is that what it's really about? Is it enough to be a success, or should we also strive for significance?
There are many paths to significance, and I can't tell you how to traverse yours. But one of the most rewarding ways to leave your mark is to reach out to the young. And one of the best ways to do that is through Students in Free Enterprise, more commonly known as SIFE, a nonprofit organization found on hundreds of college campuses across the United States and overseas. Its membership consists of top officers from some of the world's most successful corporations and a group of dedicated professors who give tirelessly to the most important SIFE component-the students. SIFE students compete by undertaking projects that help educate and inspire people in their communities, across the nation and around the world.
Ethics, or the lack thereof, played a big role at this year's SIFE competition. Flagler College, this year's SIFE National Champions in the four-year school division, presented the ethics challenge to high schoolers in their hometown of St. Augustine, Florida, as well as to college students at the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Their main theme: Learn to do the right thing, even when no one's looking.
Ethics was also stressed by the students at Louisiana State University at Eunice, SIFE's two-year school champs for the second year in a row. Their focus was on teaching that "profit without ethics is cheating."
I don't want to give the impression that SIFE is all about ethics; it's not. But SIFE is all about being significant, which Webster's defines as having meaning, influence or effect. That brings us back to the question: Are you significant? Obviously, as a business owner, you have an effect in your company. But that's not enough. You need to do more.
You can emulate the students at California State University, Chico, and offer HOPE, which stands for Helping Others Pursue Entrepreneurship. This could be as simple as creating an internship program so young wanna-be entrepreneurs can see what the entrepreneurial experience is all about. Then there's mentoring. Even if you can't spare the time to be a mentor, perhaps some of your employees can and would-especially with your encouragement.
As I was writing this, I got an e-mail about Chef Hilly's Kitchen. Chef Hilly, a 31-year-old Atlanta-bred chef, founded his chocolate gourmet treats company only three years ago. We all know how important cash flow is to young businesses, but Chef Hilly, whose mom is a breast cancer survivor, donates 10 percent of his proceeds to fund mammograms for disadvantaged women. That is significant.
If you are a college student, I encourage you to join SIFE. If your school does not have a chapter, go to www.sife.org, and find out what you can do about starting one. As for all you entrepreneurs out there, I'm asking you to heed the words of 19th century clergyman and author Edward Everett Hale, who said, "I am only one, but still I am one; I cannot do everything, but still I can do something."
Do something. What could be more significant than that?